I was invited for an art show organized by a leading bank in Israel, it was in Rothchild Boulevard in central Tel Aviv. When I first arrived to the show, I saw a tall blonde woman staring at my artwork.
"Is it yours?" she asked, and with no haste without hearing my response she told me all what she thought about my artwork, my technique and my personality. It was not so easy to hear, she was quite critical with no polite buffers but eventually we became good friends Reli and me. I loved her passion for the arts, a year later she curated a show at Horace Richter Gallery in Old Jaffa, it was the first time we worked together. She used to ask me myriad questions, and used to scribble my answers in her notebook. One of her saying was, I am exhibiting in Old Jaffa but my heart is in Old Tzfat. Since then whenever I visit the mystic town Tzfat I memorize Reli Wasser.
My studio at that time was in a majestic Eucalyptus forest, a rare spot of sheer nature on the edge of the biggest industrial area in Israel 30 minutes' drive from Tel Aviv. Reli was anxious to learn more about FLY, what is the philosophy behind it, and what exactly is the technique. Reli came 3 times to my Eucalyptus studio but haven't experienced the technique, I don't quite remember the details but remember that on the first time she arrived with fancy clothes that was a pity to ruin. In one of those visits she said, "let's do a proper interview and I'll publish it in the magazine". I never asked her what magazine.
We had this talk both in my studio and at a gallery she conducted in Tel Aviv, it was three floors under the ground so it was called 'Minus 3', I called it '60 feet under'.
I quote one of many discussions we had on the FLY method, this one is about emptiness and fulness, it started in my studio from gazing at the Eucalyptus leaves moving in the wind, "reminds me of Hockney's vivid colors." Said Reli.
I got from Reli the transcripts of our interviews, all were conducted in Hebrew, what appears here is my translation with few corrections.
I could label this interview with many other titles, one of them was, the untouched canvas, or the 4 paths, but eventually I called it fullness and emptiness hope that after reading it you'll see why.
Reli left her body at the age of 49, 7 years after this talk took place, this is a homage for her.
RW: "I see paintings of yours from 10 years ago I would call them full and your new ones I will call them empty, can you relate to this subject?"
TB: "you are touching a core subject in my art or to be better phrased in my life, because this matter of fullness and emptiness is just a symbol…"
RW: "but can you just elaborate more about the meaning behind it, I'll just say for those that would read the article and won't see your artworks..."
TB: "there would be some images attached to the article I hope"
RW: "I think so, but it is the editor's choice, I'll just say that a full artwork is an artwork where all the canvas is covered while an empty one is where you left white areas or untouched canvas"
TB: "I like the term untouched canvas more than white area. full canvas is a statement and a definition, a definition has a starting point and an end, it is a clear route, one path that leads from A to B. my dilemma in life is always around this issue of clear routes, I said once that it is a great miracle I ended my army service without being in jail..."
RW: "what do you mean by that? Have you been arrested in the army?"
TB: "I was on the verge, I felt all the time that I don't belong, that there are better things to do with my life than to run towards a cartoon figure shouting 'fire, fire, fire'. But in the end, I was released as a Major in rank and commanded hundreds of soldiers, but deep inside I said to myself, if they only knew the truth, they wouldn't dare to let me lead soldiers in battle, it is irresponsible to give me a rifle, then a machinegun then a mortar and finally an artillery battalion. So, there was this Ted Barr the anarchist with all those thoughts, you see?"
RW: "what do you mean by, all those thoughts?"
TB: "there was a General that came to my troop for an unnotified checkup, we were in the midst of the Lebanon war, we were dirty with mad, we haven't seen home for 2 months haven't the opportunity to take a shower for 2 weeks, with daily casualties, and here he comes this General with a nit uniform and a perfume and talks to me like I was the cleaning guy in his office, I was in the verge of actually shooting him, listen I'm not proud of those stories, how the hell I find myself in this path in this interview..."
RW: "I don't know maybe we touched the untouched canvas"
TB: "maybe, but promise me not to publish it unless I approve so I'll check if my parole period is activated and I'll feel freer to speak my mind with no limits."
RW: "sure, but there is something I miss in this story, it can't be that only Ted the anarchist was present, tell me about the other Ted, you surprise me with that story but maybe you did something good? You can't become a major in the Israeli army by being an anarchist and feeling an outsider."
TB: "I was very good at navigation, maps talked to me, I could see a map and translate it to topography very easily, I figured that I have a very strong natural sense of orientation, because of my interest in Deep Space I knew all the stars in the Northern Hemisphere, it helped me in night navigations, at some point I started to love it, I had a Jeep, a map, a compass and off I went to the wilderness, then I became an officer with duties and responsibilities and I less liked it."
RW: so, who wins in the end the anarchist or the major?"
TB: "I think I become a major anarchist (the translation here from Hebrew is Rav anarchist, Major in the Israeli army is Rav Seren, Rav is also a Rabbi)
RW: "but I don't really see it in your current life, you live in Ramat Hasharon the most bourgeois city on Planet Earth, you are married with two grown up children, with a company that you own, this is not an anarchist."
TB: "an anarchist is not measured by the place you live but by the way you think. Not by your profession but by your life perception. Maybe we need some definitions here. Anarchy is stepping out of the lines, fight and oppose higher instructions, not letting the authorities to dictate my life. I won't let them to be the curators in my life exhibition and say this is good we accept that this is ugly and is not accepted. Who are you fucking general to criticize me while I am striving to survive, while I'm risking my life and you sit in your bunker and issue orders, I use it just as an example to how I feel about authority. I am speaking by the way about the core essence of FLY."
RW: "how you relate FLY to authority, I don't get it."
TB: "FLY is a radical authentic self-expression, you are creating your own masterpiece regardless any comment from authorities like other 'experienced' participants, curators, collectors or the workshop facilitator which happens to be me. I say to all my students, here is the canvas, those are the colors and the chopsticks and the tar, you are invited to play, this is your playground there are no good and bad, beautiful or ugly, accepted or not accepted, it is all yours. Free the Life within You, this is FLY and I would add Free the Life within You and fly, because we all got wings but very few human beings fly."
RW: "is it related to the untouched we spoke before, so what are those untouched canvases?"
TB: "I'll go back to the initial question, there are many paths to reach Kathmandu or Tzfat (Reli's preferred city) I will mention four:
'full canvas' path
'untouched canvas' or 'slightly touched' path
'show me the way' or 'Shomty' path
and there is a 'guided tour' path, do you know what I mean?"
RW: "I have an idea but can you elaborate?"
TB: "ok, I call those routes: Full, Untouched, Shomty and Guided
Full – means a starting point, a direction and a saying, I know, don't tell me what to see, what to do, how to live my life, I will determine everything and cover all the canvas of my life with the colors I choose. I will reach Kathmandu with 5 connections via Melbourne and Singapore, you see it is not a straight line.
Untouched – It took me years to understand the genius in Cy Twombly art
I am intrigued by his work Coronation of Sesostris, but maybe again I am a bit drifting."
RW: "let us decide in the editing but please continue, what attracts you to Cy Twombly art?"
TB: "At the first glance It looks so minimal, few lines some dots, a stain and that's it. Sesostiris by the way was an Egyptian Pharaoh that conquered East Europe, what stroked me the first time I saw this painting at Gagosian gallery. it was all but a coronation with no glamour and no Pharaoh it is like calling a painting the coronation of King Solomon and showing a leaf drifting in the wind. You see, what we are talking about here is the passing moment, from the coronation only the flowers remain and even that for another day and then they wither as a human being eventually perishes. Nothing stays forever, so in the painting there are few lines that symbolizes an Egyptian boat and withering flowers. Untouched is staying quite rather than being noisy, minimalism rather than massive expression. It is staying in Mustang rather than in Kathmandu. Maybe we should call it slightly touched, I don t know, I hope you get the sense of it."
RW: "I think I do, but what is Mustang? is it related to your white canvases, the new series?"
TB: " Mustang is a remote province in the Himalayas, and yes, it is about the COL – Cycles Of Life series, we are touching here too many subjects maybe it would be a good idea to have another interview about the origin and meaning behind the COL series, shall I continue with the next one?"
RW: "no, hang on you can't run to the next subject without saying something about the Cycles Of Life series."
TB: "as I said before, life is not a linear line, what appears as a finite sequence of events is an illusion, Cycles Of Life means that each life has many cycles some with a body and then it is called LIFE, some without a body that mistakenly is called DEATH. For the source of creation, we are but infinitesimal sparks of light and energy that lit and disappear in milli-seconds. There are myriad of stars in a galaxy and myriad of galaxies in the universe as there are myriad of answers but only few essential questions, one of them is what is the reason for human life, this is the most important question that deserves continuous contemplation, so in this series there are stars and galaxies, embryos and sperms, symbols and ancient shapes that resembles the passage of the human essence between the seen and unseen worlds and vice versa."
RW: " I feel I need more information on that."
TB: "it is not information that is needed here, it is an essence, an essence defies intellectual approach, it calls for connection to its source, you don't 'understand' it you 'feel' it, once you connect to this essence all the information you'll get will be a disruption."
RW: "Are you speaking about meditation?"
TB: "meditation is a part of it, it is one way, a remote cave is another, the principle is isolating from the daily noise and low energies to be open to the core essence that made us human beings, it leads me to the third path which is – 'show me the way' I call it 'Shomty'. I don't care if a human being is a Christian, Buddhist or Hindu, I categorize people by curiosity, if someone is not curious, here ends our discussion, you see, if a person says, I know everything, he knows nothing and is stupid enough to ignore it. 'Shomty' is the path of the open, curious human beings, there are students attending my workshops that ask questions, then they apologize if they have another question, and I say: your questions show me where I am heading, feel free to ask whatever you want. In art my 'Shomty' period was 7 years of exploration and research about art techniques and methods that eventually led to the FLY technique."
RW: "I know some 'Shomty' people that are far from being curious, they are helpless, with zero self-confidence, they need a Rabbi, a Priest, a Guru, they won't ever stand on their own feet."
TB: "those are the extreme 'Shomties', I find that the 'Shomty' people are my best students and the most open people to learn the FLY method. They will land in Kathmandu then fly to Pokhara and have few tracks at the Annapurna Mountains, then they reach Mustang, those are the Everest climbers as well.
The last ones are the 'guided tour' people, they would gather at Ben Gurion airport and walk collectively to the 'El Al' airplane, land in London and go to the Big Ben and Hyde Park, you see, for the 'Guided' people Kathmandu is not an option, they want to enjoy, any effort upsets them, they want to be served on a plate, they absorb, they surrender to instructions. I am the passenger you are the pilot, bring me safely home. In my art life I had seven years of a guided period when I learned private art lessons with my master Slomo Tzafrir. So, the natural way is to pass through:
'Guided' period - childhood to
'Shomty' period – adulthood to
'Fulness' period till the age of 40 - when you want more and more and can work like crazy and then comes the
'Untouched' period - which is the last third of human life when there is a slowdown and an opportunity to ask some major questions about our existence."
TB: " what?"
RW: " the direction this conversation headed to, I just wanted to ask you about the transformation in your art during the years."
TB: " well, this is FLY, isn't it? You know where you start but have no idea to where it would lead."